The greater gift that Sir Ivor Jennings bequeathed to us has been the University of Peradeniya, situated on marvelous terrain on what once had been a large tea estate. The other gift was the first constitution which heralded Independence.
To many travel is a travail. They would even have a shut eye until the destination is reached, never knowing that to feed the senses with landscape and attendant features is far better than to arrive.
Sir Ivor traveled ceaselessly on the Kandy Road when the University was being built and never failed to be impressed by the vistas. Of course, it was a different country even by name and pith and core of its culture. The University of his vision would be "one that none in the world would have such a setting."
The visit made by Sir Ivor’s grand-daughter, Mrs Catharine Watson was reported in the front page of your issue of Feb. 23 and made me fetch ‘The Kandy Road’ gifted to me in January 1995 by Professor W.R.Breckenridge, the 16th Principal of Trinity College, Kandy when I made a periodic visit to his bungalow.
The book is of historical value wherein Sir Ivor lovingly describes the many facets of the Kandy Road which, like all roads leading out of Colombo, has been measured from the front gate of the Governor’s Palace opposite the General Post Office.
Ample coverage is given to the people who can be seen by the roadside, the story of the road, who made it and why, the consequences of making it and details of the many villages the road meanders through in its 72 miles long journey.
Credit for making the road goes to Governor Edward Barnes and the Chief Engineers were Major Skinner and Captain Dawson in whose name is built a tower atop Kadugannawa. The first sod was cut in 1820 and the trace was complete in 1821 but it was not opened to traffic until 1825.
The part that went through the low country was built by contract labour and one famous Sinhala family became rich by calling on villagers to do two weeks of work under Rajakariya or service tenure and charging their wages to the Government.
Major Skinner, then a Lieutenant of fourteen years of age was commissioned to build a portion of the road from Ambanpitiya to Warakapola at a gradient of one in twenty. He was stationed in the building which is now the Rest House in Kegalle. His superiors did not explain what "one in twenty" meant and Skinner did not ask.
Skinner’s fellow officers were a cheerful, hard-working lot and it is possible that more men were killed by drink than by road building. The embankments would be broken down by wild elephants every night, it is surprising that the road was ever built. But the early Brits had grit.
As a sentimentalist would, let us start at the beginning. After moving away from the Governor’s Palace. Having crossed York Street, the road to Kandy passes by the Kayman’s Gate which still holds the bell that had to be rung during the time of the Dutch if any wayfarer wished to enter the Fort after 6.00 in the evening.
The road meandered into Wolvendahl, so named as the dale of the wolves because of the packs of jackals that inhabited the dense jungle that it used to be. The Wolvendahl church contains the escutcheons of all the Dutch Governors from Baron Van Imhoff to Joan Gerald Angelbeck who surrendered Colombo to the British.
Until 1895 when the Victoria Bridge was built, originally for bullock carts which brought copra from coconut plantations that stretched from Negombo to Puttalam. A sturdier bridge was built in early 1950s and is still in use.
The original road snaked past the hallowed temple of Kelaniya which the chronicles state had been visited by the Buddha. From there the road winds its way and enters the modern Kandy road at Dalugama. Almost outside the suburban area is Mahara, a posting station during the time of the stage coach and a Rest House flourished until it was taken to house a village school a few years ago.
From Kadawata and the Balana Pass was dense jungle and the road to Kandy was built with great difficulty between pineapple area of Galoowas, Miriswatta and the Bandaranaike Estate and Pasyala which was the constituency of the Senanayakes.
Hedidenikande was where pretty girls plied their trade of king-coconuts. The Portuguese had a guard post nearby, carefully selected their lady friends and left a legacy of mixed blood in the village which was good for female beauty.
The road to Kandy enters the Sabaragamuwa Province at Kamburadeniya and past Ambepussa the road forks with the right path leading to Kurunegala but we take the direct road to Kandy. In Maha Oya was found gold by the British soldiers but everyone of them was smitten with malaria which was rampant at the time.
Yatahalena and Beligala are steeped in folk lore and claims fame as a dwelling place of Dutugemunu’s great grandfather and a temple which had protected the Sacred Tooth. After Ambanpitiya which is already mentioned is Kegalla, the seat of the Assistant Government Agent for the Province of Sabaragamuwa. It is the largest town and the centre of a revenue district. Adigar Molligoda’s residence still stands despite cosmetic improvements by family members.
The ruined castle that comes into view straight ahead is not a castle but a rock formation.This is Utuwankanda and was the hideout of the country’s bandit, Sardiel until he was shot dead in March, 1864.
Mawanella is the best place in the country where flying foxes can be seen hanging from trees on either side of the road and a gripping scene in Bridge Over the River Kwai was shot here. Mawanella has held with Kegalla the dubious distinction of having the champion jay-walkers. This once quaint hamlet of Mawanella is where the Outcasts of the Island was shot.
The five km steep climb up the Kadugannawa Pass begins at the village of Hingula and winds past Ganetenna where a thousand Buddhist priests were made to be trampled to death by elephants on the order of King Rajasinha lst because Buddhism would not foretell his sins would be atoned after he mended his lifestyle.
At Didula the road passes through a rock and after a few miles enters Kadugannawa with a monument in the form of a tower stands on the right bank, a tribute to Captain W.F.Dawson, the officer commanding the Royal Engineers who built a great portion of the road before he died in Colombo on 28th March 1929.
Ilukwatta is the village in which certain lands were given in 1758 to supply five million jasmine flowers to the Temple of the Tooth. After a few miles we come upon Pilimatalawwa, the ancestral village of the first Adigar who played an ambiguous role in the relations between Britain and Kandy from 1801 to his execution by King Sri Wickrema Raja Sinha in 1811.
On the threshold of Kandy are Kiribathkumbura, Iriyagama, Getambe and Gannoruwa The floods of 1947 swept away all the palatial residences in Getambe except the house in which William Goppalawa lived and the temple which became famous overnight.
The Peradeniya Bridge was begun by Captain Fraser in July 1832 and was completed by the end of the year. It was built almost entirely of satin-wood which had been hauled from Puttalam by elephant-cart. Certain portions were made of millilla. The bridge was so skilfully designed that it was put together without bolts. There is a model in the South Kensington Museum in London.
And, so, we cross the largest river in the country to sight two wonderful projects on either side - the Royal Botanical Gardens on the left and the University of Peradeniya on the right which had extensions for the Engineering and Science Facuilties after Sir Ivor Jennings completed his labour of love. Sharm deAlwis